By Naftali Silberberg, chabad.org
I’ve just finished listening to Wednesday night’s presidential debate, the second of this presidential campaign. The candidates debated many important issues, covering both domestic and foreign policy—focusing obviously on the current financial crisis. Both these candidates command the respect of millions of Americans because they each espouse an ideology which has many merits (see Left or Right). Both Liberalism and Conservatism are legitimate philosophies, each containing strong points and weak points. It will be up to the American citizens to decide which ideology is best suited for the United States of 2008.
What strikes me most about these debates is the flurry of polls that follows them. Those polled were asked which candidate expressed himself more clearly, is more fit to lead, showed he cares about the needs of people like you, had a good understanding of the issues, showed he shares your values, was more likable, etc.
I have yet to see the poll which asked the simple question: which candidate is correct on the issues. Isn’t a “debate” about establishing who’s right and who’s wrong? Isn’t a debate about individuals attempting to convert people to their philosophy and ideology by demonstrating their logical superiority over the opponents’? Why does no one seem to care whether Obama or McCain is right about taxes, healthcare, Iraq, etc.?
I think this demonstrates a very important idea. For the most part, people are not persuaded by intellectual arguments, rather they are convinced by strength of character, good example, and the perception that they are caring and moral. People would rather have a caring president who may not be so brilliant and skilled at debating than an aloof, out-of-touch president who is technically correct on the issues. This is actually a testament to the public’s intrinsic integrity.
The same is true in our personal lives. Many of us have family, friends, or business acquaintances whom we would like to introduce to the beauty of Torah and mitzvot. Often people are confident that philosophical debates and discussions proving the Divine origins of Torah or the advantage of leading a Torah-true lifestyle will achieve the desired result—but are sorely disappointed to discover that the case isn’t so. In fact, often these debates only antagonize the other person and strengthen their resolve not to be influenced.
Instead, we win votes by demonstrating that we truly care about another. We win people to our cause by example; by being the spiritual person they can only imagine themselves becoming.
– Rabbi Naftali Silberberg, a native of Detroit and a scholar renowned for his sharp wit and vast Talmudic knowledge, is on the editorial team of Chabad.org